The Dangerous Alphabet

While we’re on the subject of the macabre here at Literary Gibberish, what with the vampires and such, here’s another offering that reminds us that life does not always come up roses – even for the kiddies.

Like so many of our beloved fairy tales, The Dangerous Alphabet works on several levels. Young children, the title’s ostensible demographic will no doubt be delighted by pictures of monsters and scary spaces. As the reader gets older – or, we hope, wiser – he or she will begin to register the downright sinister nature of these passages. And we do well to remember the words of Judge Richard Posner, “Violence has always been and remains a central interest of humankind and a recurrent, even obsessive theme of culture both high and low.” Such pages as “J is the joke monsters make of their crimes” and “N is for Night and Nothing and Never” accompanied by chilling illustrations of children chained to walls and being marched through the underground are not necessarily for the faint of heart.

But for those willing to wallow through, there is an abbreviated bildungsroman. A brave young lad shepherds his sister through the underground, past pirates and to the other side where their presumed father waits, with a newspaper and languid grin. It’s almost as if his children have come through nothing more dastardly than a sunny swim in the pond.

It doesn’t take much inspection to decide that this is really a book for adults disguised as one for children. But look again and you might just come full circle. After all, it’s the kids who have the adventure and it’s through their eyes that we see the world. The father waiting for them at the end is a mere prop. Who’s to say he’s even their father. Maybe he’s a stranger waiting to ferry them to ever deeper circles of their imagined underworld.  It’s all in how you look at things, and the duo of Neil Gaiman and Chris Grimbly give us different ways to see. Ultimately The Dangerous Alphabet is a book that can be savored by all but the most timid reader with it’s grim letter assignations and illustration that will alternately delight, horrify, amuse and intrigue. So run, don’t walk, to your nearest library or bookstore to take a peek at this fine work and by all means watch out for “Piracy, blunt or discreet” on your way!

2 Responses to “The Dangerous Alphabet”

  1. walter Says:

    Have you ever read anything else by Gaiman? I have not, though I have the better part of a shelf lined with his books, mostly for adults. Neverwhere and American Gods look to me the most interesting, and my brother is a huge fan of his Sandman comics. I’m intrigued by these sci-fi/fantasy/horror authors who also write for children. Clive Barker and Terry Pratchett come to mind immediately, as well as Joyce Carol Oates. What strikes me as interesting about these specific authors is that the two audiences seem separate. The adult books are for adults, the children’s books for children, quite unlike many recent series– Harry Potter, the Christian thrillers of Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, Stephenie Meyers, Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, etc.–which are gobbled up indiscriminately by young and old alike, without question as to who, if these are indeed juvenile titles, is the intended audience and what, then, is the appropriate level of maturity of said audience. I don’t know that I’m trying to make any point here, but working in a bookstore (and library, too, i’m sure) certainly sets one to thinking about who reads what, what is good, what is bad, what is literature, what is pulp, and how and to whom all of the above is marketed. Oh, and fear not, for I am _always_ on the lookout for piracy both blunt And discreet, for discreet pirates are the most sinister of all!

  2. Conan Says:

    Nope – haven’t consumed anything else by Gaiman. Picked up Anansi Boys once or twice but never got around to reading it. He’s something of a cult hero to the Nerderati. I definitely dig what Terry Pratchett does. More on the second half of this post-length comment in an upcoming post…

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